Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"I'll take 'The Pill' with my Us Magazine please"

In a June 21st Op Ed piece in the New York Times Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health - a nonprofit research organization, argues that "The Pill" should be offered over-the-counter like cold remedies, condoms, and allergy medication and not exclusively by a doctor's prescription.

Blanchard sites the difficulty that women currently have in obtaining the pill by prescription, especially those without a doctor, and the consequences that this could have on a woman's reproductive health. "...the difficulties involved in obtaining a pill prescription, especially for women without access to a doctor, can cause gaps in contraceptive use. And the birth control methods that are available without prescription — condoms, spermicide and the sponge — have higher failure rates than the pill."

Blanchard realizes that there are some potential drawbacks to the pill being provided without a doctor's supervision including the potential dangers to certain groups of women - "Women who are 35 or older and smoke, and those with high blood pressure, are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke if they take oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin." Blanchard suggests that pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, and the government collaborate to develop public service announcements and pamphlets packaged with the pill "that would give women information about how to use the pill, deal with side effects, recognize serious complications and of course remind them to get regular checkups for preventative care like Pap smears."

As with most prescription to over-the-counter drugs, the price of the product could potentially go up, negatively affecting those who need the pill the most from obtaining access to it. "In some states Medicaid already covers over-the-counter contraception like condoms; Medicaid coverage in all states should be extended to all over-the-counter methods, including the pill."

In addition, I would suggest that nonprofits, such as my employer United Way, that have Health and Wellness initiatives consider the curtailing of unwanted and preventable pregnancies as a key component of a woman's (especially those in low income areas) future well being with the pill as an essential tool in the pursuit of that goal.

My little sister just turned 18 years old and recently graduated from high school. Two months before her graduation she gave birth to a bouncing new baby boy. The birth was the result of a confluence of factors; first, my sister's lapse in judgement and, secondly, her lack of access to and education on easy-to-use, readily available birth control methods such as the pill. The United States has one of the highest instances of teenage pregnancy in the developed world. With the hormones flowing and a Western popular culture that encourages the gratuitous, instant satisfaction of carnal urges, the rates of unplanned births are unlikely to decline in the near future no matter how many new sex education classes are developed (many on the far right of the political spectrum want such classes cut all together in our schools) or how many free condoms flood the streets outside of our grammar, secondary, and post secondary schools.

As Blanchard asserts and I wholeheartedly second, over-the-counter sells of the pill "would expand access to safe, effective contraception, and help women take control over their sexual and reproductive lives." It would also encourage men to take an active role in their part of what can be a life-altering decision for all parties involved.

Imagine for a second the following conversation taking place between two lovers in the throws of sexual lust:

Boy X: "Before we do this, I have to ask you something. Are you on the pill?"
Girl Y: "Yeah, I am but I haven't been able to get my prescription refilled and I've missed a few days."
Boy X: "No worries. Check the 2nd drawer from the top. I've got some COCPs in there - estrogen and progestin."
Girl Y: "Wow, that's so cool of you! Now come over here and give me a choker!"
Boy X: "And that's a good thing."

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